"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"


By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I waited 17 minutes for the ‘Grab’ rideshare driver to pick me up. The entire distance was a few hundred meters. If the weather was favorable, it would have been a pleasant stroll but in the heat of Thailand, I preferred to wait for the ride than walk.

The driver thanked me for waiting for him.

I thanked him for driving so far to pick me up.

Why were we thanking each other for a simple ride?

I know why I was thankful. Because sometimes when the driver sees that its taking him longer than expected and the entire fare is less than THB 100 ($2.88) he cancels in the hope of finding something more lucrative and then you have to start the process again.

Why was the driver grateful?

The driver explained that some customers get angry when it takes so long to be be picked up, and cancel their ride in frustration and in the hope of finding a car that is closer.

(I loved the ‘gratefulness’ reminder in the middle of a busy day. It is so important to find those things that we can and should be grateful for. This Chag is also called the Chag Habikurim the time of fulfilling the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits to Hashem’s Bet Hamikdash which teaches us the centrality of gratitude).

But, continued my driver, since he is already old (in his 70’s) he doesn’t get angry anymore.

I couldn’t resist asking if he got angry when he was younger and he admitted that indeed he would sometimes get angry.

After he told me his age, I commented that our Torah teaches respect for elders.

To which he responded that when he was growing up, elders were respected here in Thailand.

However, he continued wistfully, now the new generation doesn’t have that same kind of respect for elders that they used to have.

It seems that in many cultures and in many generations, it is commonplace to talk about the ‘young generation’ as being morally inferior to the previous generation.

Elders often wag their fingers at youngsters and say ‘when I was growing up people didn’t act that way…’.

Hearing it from my ‘grab’ driver about the local society wouldn’t have been remarkable, if not for the timing.

The timing of the conversation was impeccable.

A few days before the holiday of Shavuot.

When G-d made the most dramatic statement that he considers the children the most powerful guarantee that there is for Jewish/Torah continuity.

Take a look at this Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabba 1:4) and you will see what I mean:

At Sinai, when the Jews were ready to receive the Torah, God said to them,

 “What? Am I supposed to give you the Torah without any security?

Bring some good guarantors that you will keep it properly, and I will give it to you.”

Jews: Our ancestors will be our guarantors.

God: They themselves need a guarantor!

Avraham questioned Me: “How will I know?” (Genesis 15:8). Yitzchak loved Esav although I hate him (Malachi 1:3). Yaakov thought I mistreated him (see Isaiah 40:27).

Jews: Our prophets.

God: I have complaints against them, too: “The shepherds sinned against Me” (Jeremiah 2:8). “Israel, your prophets were like foxes…” (Ezekiel 13:4).

Jews: Our children are our guarantors.

God: Now, that’s a guarantor! “From the mouth of infants and babes You founded oz (strength)” (Psalms 8:3).

The Rebbe transformed this Midrashic teaching into a call for action.

Our holidays are cyclical. We relive the events every year as if they are happening again. On Pesach we eat Matzahs and feel like we ourselves have been gifted liberation.

Similarly, we celebrate Shavuot and the giving of the Torah as spiritually it is recurring again. Not merely a historical event but a current event.

In that sense, the Torah is being ‘given again’ on Shavuot. We reenact what took place 3335 years ago. We read the Ten Commandments at the Synagogue from the Torah scroll.

If we are once again being gifted the Torah by Hashem, we ought to make sure make sure that the children who are the guarantors are present.

Babies, toddles, children, are all included.

The Torah needs to be accepted with joy. Kids need to be provided with things that are joyous on their level to express their inner joy at receiving the Torah.

It has become a widespread tradition to provide ice cream and other sweets to the children in conjunction with the reading of the Ten Commandments.

So now we know what to do.

Come to hear the Torah reading and bring the kids. And provide ice cream and joy.

The takeaway from this is that Hashem clearly believes in the next generation as those who have the potential to be the carriers of the Torah forward eternally.

From this Midrash we learn that we should not automatically be dismissive of the ‘next generation’. No instinctive wagging our fingers in displeasure.

(Of course, there are many things that need fixing in terms of youth. They are not perfect; they need eons of guidance. I am talking about not adopting widespread pessimism about the next generation. When we view children through the lens of Hashems Torah the kids should be viewed as having incredible potential. It is up to us to nurture and develop it).

Let us try and understand this Midrash a bit more.

How can the children whose future is not yet proven, be guarantors for the Torah where our holy Forefathers and venerable Prophets fell short of Hashems exacting standards?

I will sharpen the question by using a joke.

A guy comes to the bank and asks for a huge loan. The banks manager responds, ‘how can I give you such a humungous loan, when I don’t even know you?’ to which the would-be borrower responded ‘that is strange. The bank I usually go to asked me ‘how can we consider giving you such a big loan. We know you too well’. When taking a loan is it better that you know me or you don’t know me?

Are kids that have an unproven track record more fit to be guarantors than the elders and sages who are nearly perfect?

The answer is a resounding YES.

Midrash says clearly that G-d said he is accepting the children as reliable guarantors.

My brother R’ Zalman of Chabad of Rancho S. Margarita shared the following thought with me which sheds light on this topic.

A Torah sold last week for $38 million.


Called Codex Sassoon after the name of the collector, it's an ancient leather-bound, handwritten parchment volume, from the Land of Israel or Syria (which had a large Jewish community for over 2000 years), dating from around 900 C.E..

It's not a kosher Torah scroll; it's more like the printed Torah books we use to study from.

According to Sotheby's this volume "contains almost the entirety of the Hebrew Bible" (all 24 books, the Tanach), making it the most complete early physical copy to exist today.

It is indeed interesting to me, and I'd love to hold it in my hands, and leaf through some of the pages.

But am I impressed?!

About what? 

We have it today too - the original as given to us at Sinai, and then through Moshe and the subsequent prophets - and as handed down through the generations: hand-copied, studied, lived, and even printed. 

Gutenberg's printing press came in 1436; the first Jewish Hebrew books were already published in 1472!

If you want to know what's impressive to me, it's this (photo collage from a recent Mommy and me): 

It's living Judaism - a continuum of history of 3335 years from Sinai, and before.

Beginning with the education of the Guarantors of the Torah, the children, and continuing through the education and observance and celebration of teens, adults, seniors at every stage of life, picking up wherever you are.

It doesn't cost $38 million, and you don't need to go see it in a museum.

This Shavuos, as we celebrate the Giving of the Torah for the 3336th time, let us embrace the precious gift given to our safekeeping.

Unlike the Sassoon volume that requires special handling, this gift, the Torah, stays better when it gets more exposure--when it's used, lived, experienced.

One page at a time, one mitzvah at a time - whether yourself or with others - every bit works to uplift our lives and the world to a better and more G-dly existence.

And after all, isn't that the goal and fervent wish, a world transformed?

(Other article I about where our future lies from the Chabad rabbi of Calabasas click here and from click here).

Bottom line: I think we fully understand that the future of our people, the future of our Torah being kept, is totally in the hands of the next generation.

Here is what we can do. Everyone at their respective stage in life.

Marry Jewish and have Jewish children.

Get those kids involved in Torah study and Mitzvah observance.

Contribute money to Jewish causes that educate children.

Be more patient when children are acting like children.

Don’t ‘wag your finger’ and tsk tsk disparagingly to the next generation, shine your light by doing the right things and teach by being a living example.

Chag Sameach

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

As we enter Shavuot which is the time we became the unified nation of Am Yisrael and mutually responsible for each other, please consider a monthly* gift of $18 - $54 - $180 to our Tzedakah Humanitarian fund that provides ongoing relief and emergency assistance to fellow Jews here in Thailand.

*By clicking the monthly box

Ladies first.

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Ladies first.

Even in this day and age, most women graciously accept the traditional "ladies first" rule, whether it's getting off a sinking ship or going through a ballroom doorway. Commonly perceived as a concession to the weaker gender by the stronger, the rule is actually founded upon a very different rationale, at least in the Jewish tradition.

When G‑d instructed Moses to prepare the people of Israel to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai some 3,300 years ago, He said: "Speak to the house of Jacob, and tell the sons of Israel" (Exodus 19:3). The "house of Jacob," our sages explain, are the women; "the sons of Israel," the men. In other words, speak first with the ladies.

Click here for the rest of the article by Yanki Tauber.

The gist of the explanation behind this drastic change is as follows.At the beginning of creation, Hashem conveyed the message of refraining from the forbidden fruit to Adam. It was not even adhered to for one day. The sin of eating from the tree of knowledge happened almost immediately.

Hashem reversed things at the giving of the Torah and instructed Moshe to broach it with the women first.

The results are astounding. It’s 3,335 years ago and getting stronger and stronger Baruch Hashem.

I had the opportunity this week to ‘so to speak’ ‘imitate G-d’ in this respect.

On my four-day visit to Melbourne Australia, I was invited to teach and share words of inspiration with students and members of the local Jewish community at various venues.

My first speech though, was at the Ohel Chana Seminary for young ladies. I thought it was quite appropriate for these days that are leading up to the holiday of the giving of the Torah.

One of the questions I was presented with during my visit is ‘what are you doing in Melbourne’.

It would have been easy to say that I went to visit our daughter and her family who live in Melbourne, in the role of a doting Zaidy crossing the ocean to see his adorable grandchildren.

For the sake of accuracy though, I told the truth. I was visiting Melbourne primarily to fundraise for the activities of Chabad of Thailand.

(The incredible ‘side benefit’ was the time I got to spend with the grandkids, and I thank Hashem for His boundless kindness).

The students I was addressing were curious to know, why I took time from my schedule to teach them Torah and inspire them to deeper commitment to Hashem and His Mitzvahs.

In other words, wouldn’t the time spent on teaching be a distraction from the main agenda of my visit which was visiting philanthropists to raise funds?

It’s a good question.

The same question that a busy person may ask when it comes to making time to pray to Hashem amidst a frenetic schedule.

A childhood friend of mine indeed told me that he is so busy in his career that he doesn’t have time for regular Torah study.

From the perspective of ‘the order of nature’ it would seem to be a simple fact. If you were to invest the time that you spend praying and studying into business and career activities, you will have more material success.

I am going to say something counterintuitive.

Spending time on praying and Torah study leads to a more profitable bottom line.

I say it with confidence because I am just paraphrasing what our Sages have told us (Ethics of our Fathers 3:5):

Rabbi Nechunia the son of Hakanah would say: One who accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah is exempted from the yoke of government duties and the yoke of worldly cares; but one who casts off the yoke of Torah is saddled with the yoke of government duties and the yoke of worldly cares.

I can give you some real examples that I have experienced throughout the years.

In the rush to get to an important meeting, I decided to skip attending a minyan and opted to pray in private. I got lost and a chunk of time was added to my travel time. You can imagine my chagrin when I realized that I could have attended the minyan and perhaps I wouldn’t have made the wrong turn and arrived at my destination even earlier.

Contrast this with the following story.

During the evening hours in Thailand, I checked the American Friends of COT account. To my dismay there was a minus of a substantial amount. A bill had come in for automatic debit and there were insufficient funds to cover it. The bank manager is sympathetic to the fact that we are a non-profit organization and allows me several hours to cover the overdraft.

I was about to start a Torah class. There was a dilemma in my mind. Should I defer the class to try and drum up donations or loans to cover the deficit? Or should I continue my schedule and give the Torah class and hope that I would still have time afterwards to sort things out.

Baruch Hashem I made the choice to proceed with my Torah class.

After the lesson I logged into my bank account and lo and behold. There was a significant positive balance. I could not believe my eyes. What had transpired?

It was a totally unexpected deposit. It came from a supporter who had committed to send a very nice donation a month later. For reasons unbeknown to me, he decided to send the funds a month earlier. The deposit came on the exact day that the bank was overdrawn. It was a sizeable enough donation to create a bigger plus than the previous minus.

I thanked Hashem joyously for the timing of this donation. And even more so for giving me the inner compass that directed me in the right direction.

Can you imagine what would have happened if I had cancelled my Torah class and scrambled together some funds to cover the deficit. And then a few minutes later this donation would have arrived. I would have felt very disappointed about the clearly misguided choice.

This is the way I understand the Mishna quote above.

Follow Hashem’s path, and He will see to it that you don’t have go off on meandering paths that can be avoided.

This is what I explained to the students who were asking me if spending time with them in Torah discussion wasn’t a distraction to my main agenda for my trip which was raising funds.

The way I see it, it was only an enhancer.

If you engage in teaching Torah and helping others, all of your endeavors will be blessed with G-dly success.

If you are having trouble getting your mind around this idea, let me share the following contemporary saying.

The question isn’t “Can I afford to exercise?” but “Can I afford not to exercise?”

On the face of things, it would seem that if you take the time to exercise, you are reducing your productivity as you now have less time to ‘work’.

The reality is different. Engaging in exercise enhances your overall productivity.

Scientifically it makes sense in terms of neurons and endorphins.

According to the Torah, synchronicity between G-dly spirituality and physical materiality is a reality.  We know and believe that Hashem created the world. Thus, there is a direct causality between what we do spiritually to what takes place in our physical environs.

‘Plugging in’ to Hashem’s energy source by studying Torah and doing Mitzvah’s brings energy and blessing all the way down the totem pole into the most materialistic aspects of our lives.

One of the ways we see the connection between spirituality and physicality, is by observing Hashem’s presence in the world. This is revelated to us by the Divine Providence that is prevalent in the intricate pattern of the events that comprise life. If you try hard enough you may find Divine Providence wherever you are, however, when you go out on a trip, and are not in a routine, it is even easier to observe the Hashgacha Pratit and see G-d’s guiding Hand.

I was running late to a meeting at Glick’s Malvern. I wanted to send a WhatsApp to the person I was going to meet that I would be 5 minutes late to our 10:30 am appointment. To my dismay, once I opened the message thread, I saw that I had erred in the timing. It was supposed to be a 10:00 meeting. I sent a message that I had made a mistake and was on my way but didn’t hear back. I figured, let me keep going. It is quite simple. From not going, nothing will happen. If I go, perhaps the person will still be there. I arrived, parked and checked my phone. The person responded that he had already left the venue but said he would be back in 15 minutes. As I was standing in the parking lot, digesting the change in plans brought about by my mistake, I saw an elderly man shuffling towards me on a walker.

He turned to me and said, ‘this year is sixty years since the debut of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. I wanted to respond politely so I asked him if he remembered any of the songs. He said, ‘I don’t really remember the songs, but my mother was Jewish and she would remember’.

My ears perked up and I asked him if he had ever had a Bar Mitzvah and if he would like to put on Tefilin. He said that he is turning 68 soon and he thinks he may have had a Bar Mitzvah. He is not sure if he ever put on Tefillin and was not up to putting on Tefilin just then and there but said he would be interested in the future. In the meantime, he shuffled off. But not before I managed to get his name which was a Polish sounding name as his father was Polish and non-Jewish while his mother was Viennese and Jewish.

Oh, while this exchange was going on, the person I was meant to meet texted me to tell me that he had been called to something urgent at his business. He would still support our work and send me a donation via credit card.

I had no doubt that Hashem had a reason for my mix-up but I felt so blessed that I was shown vividly the exactness of Hashem’s Providence.

(It is still a story in development as I passed on the details of this person to one of the Chabad rabbi’s in Melbourne to try and locate him based on the limited info I provided) .

In Hayom Yom the Rebbe quotes from the verse in Tehilim.

A person who believes in Divine Providence knows that “the steps of a man are made firm by G‑d.” [A person goes to] a particular place because his soul must refine and perfect something there. For hundreds of years, or even from the very beginning of creation, the object that must be refined or rectified waits for that soul to come and do that task.

Click here for full quote and commentary.

As you move around from place to place, recognize that there is a Divine plan for your travels.

Be open to ‘smelling the roses’ along the way.

Don’t be close minded to think that you need to be singular minded on your business.

Pay attention to the people you can help during your journey.

Be alert to the wisdom you can gain and the inspiration you can share.

Engaging in G-dly things during your mundane daily activities will not only bring you to a better spiritual place, it will enhance your material life as well.

Try it.

(I am back safely thank G-d)

Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Effort or outcome?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Effort or outcome?

Which is most important?

It depends.

If you are going to eat in a restaurant and the food is too salty, the fact that the chef invested a lot of effort is not going to mean much.

When it comes to relationships it’s a totally different story. With human relationships, effort is supremely important.

Imagine a woman who finds a beautiful bouquet of flowers waiting on her doorstep. They may have been delivered in the name of her husband. But if the wife discovers that it’s her husband’s secretary (or AI) that bought the flowers for their anniversary based on an automated reminder in the ‘to do list’, it won’t have the desired effect.

If it was effortless, it will be meaningless.

Kids have it figured out instinctively.

It’s not by coincidence that when things are hectic, babies and toddlers (and even teens) are needy and start vying for their parents’ attention.

When things are calm and the parents coddle them and play with them, that is fine. However, this does not mean that they are the most important thing in their parents’ universe. They are subconsciously looking for an even deeper love. The love that comes out of making a great effort. Like when the parents are caught up with the hecticness of life and need to carve out space for their kids. If you get the cues and give the attention, it will release a lot of the tension.

This has been embedded into creation by the Creator. The greater the efforts that you put forth for something the more meaningful it becomes. The more you work on a relationship with someone, the deeper you connect to that person.

It is very much that way when it comes to our relationship with G-d.

Hashem instructs us to do Mitzvahs so that we have a way to connect to Him.

How can you connect to G-d who is infinite, only when He gives you a path to connect to Him. That is what Mitzvahs are. Connectors.

Hashem desires our connection to Him.

Not just when it comes easy and without effort.

Hashem wants to see how we relate to him when it is not easy.

Hashem cherishes our efforts. The harder the effort the dearer it is to Hashem.

And He rewards us commensurate to our efforts. We are rewarded not (only) based on outcome, but based on how much effort and strain we encountered along the way.

Our sages said it in the Ethics of our Fathers (5, 21): ‘According to the ‘pain’ (aka effort) is the reward’.

The Rebbe takes this teaching and deepens the meaning, from which the following life lesson emerges.  

Why do people get stuck in life without having the energy to get to where they really want.

For many people, it’s fear of failure that holds them back from trying something new.

Here is a simple example.

Riding a bicycle usually involves one or two falls as you learn to balance yourself. Kids are usually flexible and used to falling as they romp around. The fear of falling is usually not a deterrent for them.

When it comes to adults, the fear of falling is scarier and thus it is more difficult to acquire bicycle riding balancing skills. (For me this applies with ice skating as I go around the rink at our ‘Chanuka on Ice’ event, clutching onto the railings).

When it comes to making career changes, launching a new business or relocating to a new place, it is often scary as the future is unknown.

Super optimists may not be so bothered and just move on without thinking.

But let’s face it. It’s nice to be optimistic but one should also have a healthy does of realism. It seems safe to say that in life, if you embark on something bold and daring, there is a chance that you may not be successful.

What happens when an idea is unsuccessful. Isn’t it a waste of time and resources?

And then isn’t there really something to be fearful about?


If your agenda in life is ‘bottom line’ and amassing money and assets, then you are indeed taking a gamble.

Embarking on a new business may yield success or may be unsuccessful.

And if you end up being without profits and even worse, in debt, you will not have achieved your objective. And your vendors may not respect your efforts.

With all the goodwill in the world, you cannot take ‘efforts’ to the bank. If you don’t have money in the bank to pay the electricity bill, the explanations to the electricity company about how hard you are trying, won’t keep the power on.

Being fearful of failure in this case may actually be prudent and protect you from falling into crippling debt.

Especially if you are not young and have other people reliant on you.

If you were prophet and knew the future, the wise thing would be, not to embark on the new venture.

With our relationship with G-d, it’s totally different.

When embarking on something ambitious to deepen your relationship with G-d, holding back because of fear of failure is a missed opportunity.

Say a person is considering taking on a commitment to give more Tzedaka to help others. Right now, it looks like a bold undertaking. Not impossible and not totally unreasonable. Just somewhat ambitious and it may be that he will not be able to fully carry through on it.

The fear that he may not be successful in carrying out his commitment dampers his enthusiasm. His internal voice of caution tells him that he should not even make the commitment.

It can be argued, says that little ‘negatively inclined’ voice, dressed up in robes of piety, that it is wise and holy to be prudent in this case.

‘Undertaking something that may be too large, may harm your connection to Hashem’.

‘If you don’t succeed in carrying out your commitment you will fall into ‘spiritual debt’ to Hashem for not succeeding’, argues the inner voice.

What indeed happens if after a person tried and strained and pushed himself to the maximum, he failed. In terms of measurable outcomes that is. He promised xyz and underdelivered.

Perhaps he would be better off not having endeavored the bold leap that he took.

The Rebbe sees this Mishnaic statement ‘according to the pain/effort is the reward’ as an answer to this dilemma.

Hashem welcomes, cherishes, values honest efforts. To prove the point, He even gives reward for efforts that turn out to be fruitless.

Even when the efforts remain just that. Painful and strenuous efforts. Without a successful outcome.

It’s almost like saying that if you had a time machine and saw that in the future your undertaking wouldn’t succeed, you would still be blessed for taking on a good resolution and working hard and vigorously to fulfil your commitment.

In Hashem’s Eyes, the undertaking, the efforts and the straining, are valuable and treasured. Regardless of the success of the outcome.

Moreover, the greater the ‘pain’ the greater the ‘gain’.

So, let’s get a bit more audacious in setting our sights higher and broader.

(Not in a deranged and unrealistic way. That is foolish, not brave).  

The Sages teach us that Hashem cherishes our efforts even if they are not successful.

My friends, is there anything more ‘successful’ than Hashem treasuring one’s efforts?

This is the beauty of being in a relationship with Hashem.

If you live your life as He instructs your every activity is a part of the mosaic of G-d’s work here on earth.

You are like a full time ‘employee’ of Heaven. In whatever you do. From the mundane to the holy.

And your measure for success is not judged by how much ‘value’ you brought as an outcome.

Rather your mission is to put forth every effort.

The only question that really matters is ‘how hard you tried to be what you can be’.

This message was the topic of the ‘Sicha’ I taught at the Thursday night Torah class (in person and Zoom) and follows the Project Likkutei Sichos cycle.

Hashem sent me the message when I really needed it.

It is all about our efforts.

That is what is asked of us.


That is gifted by Hashem.

When it comes to Hashem, He values and cherishes efforts. Strenuous efforts are even more treasured. When you don’t yet get the outcome you need, it doesn’t mean you were not successful. As long as you tried, you are already successful.

Perhaps Hashem is delaying the success and telling you that you need to try even harder.

Friends, if you are thinking about doing something that you know Hashem wants, an additional Mitzvah, some more Torah, helping more people, don’t overthink it.

Even if you engage in something as mundane as raising funds for startups. (Over the last few weeks, I have met by Divine Providence three people in the startup industry in Israel. This is why this example jumps to my mind). If your overall agenda is G-d based your business endeavors are also a ‘mission’ from G-d. For example, if your product is adding goodness to humanity, if your intention is to give more employment to those who need to support their families, grow the economy of Israel, or if you wish to make profits to do kindness and tzedakah, this message about the value of efforts unrelated to outcomes, applies to you as well.

It is not just the successful outcome that is important. Hashem relishes your genuine efforts in bettering the world as well.

Let us stop hesitating about moving forward to do what Hashem wants.

Take a leap.

Try your best. Even strain yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Hashem tells us in the Torah that ‘yagaata umatzata’ ‘strenuous toil leads to finding successes’.

And in the event that you don’t yet see the outcome you are awaiting, reframe your understanding of the word success to incorporate ‘success = making maximum efforts’ to fulfil your commitment to Hashem.

May Hashem crown the efforts of His people Am Yisrael with success.

May there be peace and protection in Israel and in the entire world.

We want Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Balancing Act

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

A community member whose son I had the privilege to prepare for his Bar Mitzva, shared with me about his son’s progress in life. His son is currently undergoing intense training for an elite unite in the IDF.

The father also shared with pride that while their family is not fully mitzvah observant, his son puts on the Tefillin that he received at his Bar Mitzvah, at least once a week.

I was deeply inspired to hear of his son’s progress and heroic commitment to protecting our fellow Jews in the holy land of Israel.

As well, I admired his mature insight into the importance of simultaneously bonding with G-d via His mitzvah of Tefillin.

Why do I call it maturity?

Because it takes a combination of two opposite notions.

Nobody needs much convincing to agree that maintaining a strong army is one of the most critical components for Israel’s survival. Surrounded as they are by those who wish to see their annihilation, a strong military is an absolute must.

When it comes to putting on Tefillin, praying and doing G-d’s mitzvahs it doesn’t necessarily see so obvious. Some may ask, how does doing holy and spiritual things help preserve the security of Israel?

And on the flip side, if one believes that prayer and mitzvahs are so invincibly strong, why the need for an army at all?

The answer is very simple.

Hashem has clearly told us in the Torah that just like we have a body and a soul, the world operates in two tracks. There are the ‘rules of nature’ and there is nature defying ‘miracles’.

Are we to rely on miracles, or act within the boundaries of nature?

The Torah teaches us that we need a balance of both.

On the one hand G-d promises that He will bless us with supernatural protection, yet He has also instructed us that notwithstanding His Divine protection to us, we need to act within the parameters of nature.

The Jewish way is very clear.

To support ourselves and our families Hashem tells us that we need to go to work and earn money.

If one doesn’t feel well, the Torah instructs us to visit the doctor and get healed.

To ward off security threats, Hashem instructs us to self-protect. The Torah itself teaches us that we need to create a military deterrent by having a super strong army.

(We are too used to the absurd reality that we live in. A world where anti-Semitism has sadly and tragically not disappeared. The mere fact, that a nation that is chosen by G-d to be a ‘light unto the nations’ needs to invest in weaponry and develop military supremacy is ludicrous. It is insanity. However, for now it is the reality. For some reason unknown to us, this is the way Hashem has set it up for now. Hopefully soon to be changed with the coming of Mashiach and ‘they shall beat their swords into plowshares’).

And at the same time, we must always remember that it is Hashem who causes our actions to be successful.

As King David says in Tehillim (Psalms) 127: If Hashem will not build a house, its builders have toiled at it in vain; if Hashem will not guard a city, [its] watcher keeps his vigil in vain.

Some people get pulled to extremes.

Some consider themselves ‘non-believers’ and they pride themselves on relying solely on nature.

Others, in the name of being super-pious, proclaim that they wish to rely only on Divine miraculous intervention.

My Bar Mitzvah student obviously gets the balance.

He is training for an elite unit in the army which means he understands the critical need for a strong military.

Yet at the same time he is mindful that the blessings for success come from Above and he takes the time to pray to Hashem and wrap his Tefillin regularly.

It got me thinking about the other forms of polar opposites we are called upon to embrace during our lives.

Think about different character modes in terms of interpersonal relationships.

I remember hearing from a very prominent person in the London Jewish community about his frustrations when he arrived home after a high-level day. ‘I had just come home from dining in Buckingham Palace with the members of the royal family, and then my wife sent me to take out the rubbish’.

It can be quite challenging. Imagine a man or woman being an employer of hundreds or thousands of workers, at the top of a business hierarchy that has their wishes turning to commands and then coming home to eat dinner and interact with a spouse and children. One cannot give an ‘order’ to a spouse like one can issue an instruction to a secretary. At home the leader of the company must adjust to being the spouse and parent of that home. For some (or perhaps for many) these adjustments do not come so easily and thus the peace at home is sometimes challenged.

I saw this idea at the end of a long letter to Elie Wiesel in 1967. The Rebbe implores Mr. Wiesel in this long Yiddish letter to get married (pursuant to a previous 1965 letter in this vein) and have children. In a PS, the Rebbe voiced his disappointment at the ‘meddling middlemen’ who derailed his proposed meeting with Mrs. Golda Meir during her visit to New York.

The Rebbe wrote (loose translation from the Yiddish original) ‘ I don't want to dwell on this painful matter, although of course I am disappointed that the meeting did not happen. Apart from all other things, the meeting with Mrs. G.M is also interesting to me from a purely human-psychological point of view. To be able to study a person who, although she has been active in political life for decades, with all the qualities that are associated with it, she has the ability to be a grandmother to small grandchildren, With the softness and heartiness that are required for this’.

Mrs. Golda Meir has been termed by biographers as a ‘lioness’ and ‘indomitable’. The Rebbe also saw her other side as a soft and emotional grandmother. The two opposite set of character traits coming together and being embodied in one person was of interest to the Rebbe.

In the Torah (this week’s Parsha) there is a law that instructs a Kohen Gadol (High Priest) to stay holy and segregated, not ever leaving the holiness of the Temple to engage in burying a dead person even if it’s his immediate relative. But then there is a different directive which stands in direct opposition to those laws of holiness. If there is a ‘met mitzvah’, a person who has died who has no one to tend to him, the Kohen Gadol is instructed by the Torah to go out and ‘impure’ himself by burying the dead person.

How can that be?

The Kohen Gadol occupies the holiest position in the Jewish People. He and only he, entered the Holy of Holies on the holiest day of the year Yom Kippur.

How can be instructed to ‘defile’ that holiness and engage with a corpse which has the highest level of impurity as defined in the Biblical laws of Taharah purity.

Even for his father he is not allowed to leave his perch of segregation from impurity, yet for an absolute stranger he may be instructed to defile himself?

The answer is obvious. There is absolutely no contradiction.

The Kohen Gadol is an agent of G-d.

He has one mission to fulfil.

The instructions of Hashem.

When one views life from that lens, it is quite uncomplicated.

Should you stay in Synagogue all day and pray?

Or go out and get a job to earn a living.

Should you get a job that doesn’t allow Shabbat observance or make a firm resolution that Shabbat will be kept at all costs?

Our singular mission in life is to fulfil Hashems will.

What should you do?

Ask Hashem.

He has made it very clear.

You need to do both.

‘Do what you can naturally. I will bless your efforts’.

It is a blend of human efforts with G-d’s blessings crowning those efforts with success.

It is really quite straightforward.

It is not about following your ‘heart’ and doing what you feel like.

One must follow the instruction of Hashem.

Nice people need to be ready to be ‘tough’ and firm when it comes to standing up for moral values and protecting others.

Tough and unyielding people need to cultivate kind and benevolent feelings in relating to their loved ones and to people who need their compassion and help.

(Because we are all subjective by nature, we must engage an impartial ‘rav’ teacher to help us come to the correct application of what Hashem is instructing us in any given situation).

How fortunate we are that Hashem ‘made us’ and just as He is omnipotent, he provides us with the ability to do the impossible when required. To straddle both worlds and to incorporate all kinds of character traits. As needed in following His instructions.

Thank you, my dear Bar Mitzvah student, for your commitment to the security of our people. I, like every single Jew owe you and of all those brave soldiers, my admiration, my prayers, my support and my love.

And thank you for being a beacon of transmission of our unchanging Jewish tradition by proudly putting on your Tefillin and promoting a message of faith and trust in Hashem as the cornerstone and bedrock of Am Yisrael.

May Hashem bless you and all our people.

Am Yisrael Chai.

May we be blessed with SHALOM, peace and tranquility in the holy land of Israel and the coming of Mashiach to usher in the everlasting utopian world that our Prophets have described – Mashiach NOW!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


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